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No more just a prodigy, Sai Sudharsan aims to fulfill potential

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Last updated on 24 Feb 2023 | 09:50 AM
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No more just a prodigy, Sai Sudharsan aims to fulfill potential

In an exclusive chat with Cricket.com, the southpaw spoke about early cricketing days, the feeling of winning an IPL and much more

Cricket and Chennai go hand-in-hand. Cinema and Chennai too goes hand-in-hand. Coffee and Chennai, that too makes for a riveting love-story. 

But there is just one part of the above three C’s that connects Sai Sudharsan with the city, and that’s cricket. The southpaw is 21 but at this age, has already won a Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) title, a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) title and the biggest of them all - the Indian Premier League.

How can you track his growth? Earlier on Thursday (February 23), the TNPL franchise, Lyca Kovai Kings acquired the services of the southpaw for a massive sum of INR 21.6 lakhs, more than what he had earnt from his contract in the IPL with Gujarat Titans (INR 20 lakhs).

It is hard to fathom such an instant growth in Indian cricket but at the same time, the question remains: can he sustain this form? Prodigy and talent only brings you so far but from thereon, if the performances are not in alignment with the talent, then a batter is done and dusted. 

Cricket.com caught up with the youngster, and had some tricky questions for the southpaw but he smashed us just like he does the bowlers. Here is the excerpt: 

Talk about your cricketing journey and how was cricket growing up for you?

Actually, first I was studying in DAV (Dayanand Anglo-Vedic) school, that's where my cricketing journey started. My father was training for athletics, so my journey really started there with the tennis-ball.

In childhood, there was a rule or something that you have to score in every game. That has really made me mentally tough. There can't be mentally excuses and in every game I had to score. That's what my mom and dad used to tell me. That's one thing I vividly recollect from my young days of playing cricket.

So, this tag of being a heavy run-scorer, does that come from the upbringing or is it the hunger?I think both the reasons - one is the upbringing and the other, passion to score runs. Definitely the passion to score runs has been one of the major things for me. The hunger to score runs is definitely there, it was inculcated from how they brought me up. That's the main reason for hunger. My parents weren't strict but they were quite disciplined, and that's something that they wanted to inculcate in me from a young age.

You’ve shared a dressing room with the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, did you pick a thing or two during the U-19 days?

Definitely, at that time I wasn't even close (performance-wise) to the likes of (Yashasvi) Jaiswal and Tilak (Varma), they were actually playing at a different level. I felt that I had to improve a lot, during the U-19 challengers. I was actually room-mates with Jaiswal, and I did speak to him a lot of times and shared knowledge. 

After a few years and during the lockdown, there wasn't much skill-difference between the players but had learnt that there was a mental shift, which made them better than the others. Mental shift is something I learnt from them, the way they prepare and approach, including the intent.

Talk to us about the 87 that you scored against Salem Spartans in the TNPL, how was that challenge? Facing some of the best spinners from the state? 

I wanted to play TNPL for a long time, it was the perfect platform for me to showcase my skills. I feel at that time, everyone had a long break, I was just training and working on my skills. The hunger was more during that time, it reflected in that knock and the season. I was not nervous, I had butterflies in and around before the match. Once I got the first run, everything just fell in place.

I feel when the mind is calm and you are thinking of what to do, that's when I think the batter is in a good frame. If everything happens in a smooth manner, that's when you get to know.

TNPL winner, SMAT winner, IPL winner with Gujarat Titans, and now a match as Tamil Nadu’s vice-captain, all of this at the age of 21, has that sunk in?

Being a vice-captain for the Ranji Trophy side in the year of debuting, it is surreal for me. I never expected that I would get the vice-captaincy but having said that, I'm very happy for the opportunity that TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association) have presented me, it has added more responsibility in the coming years. We have to win, we have to perform better, that thought has sunk in more for me.

The IPL win was also surreal, going into the first season of the IPL and winning it, it is quite special. We are very happy also, I can't quite explain that feeling. It is still (sinking in) for me.

From being hailed as a run-accumulator, where did this power emerge from? Was it something you have consciously worked on?

I had put in a lot of effort, I have to credit that COVID period, where I worked a lot on my batting. At that time, I used to practise different shots, and play a lot of scenario cricket, and that actually helped me a lot. The two years were fully loaded with such sessions and stuff.

Some of your shots are reminiscent of Washington Sundar, did you model your game on his batting style?

We (Washington and I) have played a few games together but definitely, I look up to many people and one of them is Washi (Washington Sundar), he progressed very quickly in his career. He went to the IPL and then straight to the Indian team, I was very impressed with his growth. I have followed many people like him, he's one of them.

What was the GT experience like, what was it like to work with Ashish Nehra and Gary Kirsten?

He's (Nehra) one of the best human beings that I have ever seen till now. Even from a groundsman to Hardik (Pandya) Bhai also, he gives equal importance. It is insane, he makes everyone feel special and precious.

If you know Nehra sir, he would have given you that feeling as well and some special moments in life. That's his character, he's very cool. I would credit Gujarat's success to his attitude as a coach, that character definitely has come through to the group.

I have picked a lot of things from Gary (Kirsten), he has always spoken from a player's perspective. It is a pleasure working with a World-Cup winning coach. Before my debut as well, he asked me if I was ready and had a good conversation with me. He asked me to go express myself, and lauded my abilities. He also focuses more on the preparation.

A word on Hardik Pandya, the captain and the person? Was his door always open for the youngsters?

Hardik's (Pandya) door is 100% open for everyone in the team. I think he's insanely confident in his abilities and decisions. I have learnt how he presents himself and his confidence is immense. I have learnt those small attributes from him. The way he approaches, his attitude is something that I have picked up.

From First-Division cricket to debuting for Tamil Nadu, what’s that journey like?

First-Division is the base for everything that I'm now. In the lockdown too, I got a lot of support from everyone, including Jolly Rovers, and that has helped me a lot to improve as a cricketer. Before going to the Ranji Trophy side, I had a lot of people to see as role-models too.

It was a very special moment for me, it is every young kid's dream to play in the Ranji Trophy, to represent the Tamil Nadu side. The first thing that was special for me was to get the Ranji cap, I got the cap from (Baba) Aparajith and that was quite special. I was a little bit nervous on the first day of the morning but I had a lot of butterflies too. Once the batting started on a good note, everything fell in place, and I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things.

Tamil Nadu adopted a rather very bold approach with the bat? Have you guys coined a term for that like Baz-ball or is it work-in-progress?

Not yet but there were a lot of funny conversations, we were batting at a good rate but we haven't come up with a name like Baz-ball yet. I don't want to name it yet (chuckles), let's see.

Talk about that partnership - the 416-run partnership with Jagadeesan, and the world record that Tamil Nadu holds of highest run scored in a List-A innings?

It was really special and I have to thank him because we now have a world-record, that is very special for everyone. We got the highest run in List-A cricket, the way he was batting, he was in his peak form, he was striking it too well and every ball he was intending to get a boundary. 

That game I played second-fiddle and just wanted to give him the strike. We spoke about how we batted after the game, so I was telling him that with how you were going, I just wanted to give you the strike.

Now, the Ranji Trophy debut? Did the missed win against Hyderabad sting the team?

To be honest, their 9th wicket partnership frustrated us, they played for close to 13-14 overs (sic). We were mentally ready that we were going to try to chase that score and we went to the run-chase with that intent. That seven points was always going to be important for us going into the season.

That was the conversation we had, that also was unreal innings that Jaggi Anna (Jagadeesan) played, we didn't expect it to go this well. He got eight sixes in the span of three overs, it was great watching him from the other end.

100%, we felt that Hyderabad slowed the game down and wasted some time in the second innings. But that is cricket, and every team will do the same thing. Even if we were in that position, we would have done the same thing. So, we can't give that as an excuse.

Did the missed opportunity against Andhra Pradesh ultimately cost you a qualification place?

I won't say that it was only that (Andhra) game that cost Tamil Nadu a qualification spot, we didn't leave a lead against Maharashtra and Mumbai. But that game was an important game. We were through almost but we couldn't finish it off. That game changed in one session, I think we also had a bad decision. So, it was a bit of both that cost us.

Your form dipped during the season, did you feel some sort of pressure?Definitely, I felt something, I started the season very well but credits to the team management, they kept instilling confidence. But I didn't feel like I was not scoring, I was only focusing on the right plans, and how I would react to the things. I didn't go too much into scoring runs but was thinking about the process and was working towards that.

Let’s get to the big question, what happened to your leg-spin? Have you worked on that?

I love to bowl leg-spin to be honest, after school I suddenly grew tall and then everything changed, including the release point. I found it very difficult, I'm working on it everyday now. Not that much (on conversations with Rashid), I haven't had a big conversation with Rashid Khan yet. He gave me a few tips here and there. This season, I would love to get his knowledge, I would want to develop as a bowler as well.

What are you looking forward to this season? 

Not many expectations, I have to express myself well and fulfill my potential, definitely I have to prepare well for it and handle the pressure. These are some of the things that I'm more worried about and not about runs.

Excited to meet Kane Williamson? What’s your ultimate ambitions for your cricketing life?

100%, I want to meet Kane Williamson, it is an honour for me to share the dressing room. I would love to have a conversation with Miller, and Kane the way he bats not just in T20I and even in Tests, that's something I want to learn.

Playing for India, not just Tests is my dream. That's probably the dream of many kids in the country. But I have to work a lot to get to that level, so that's going to be my goal.

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